NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee contractor is facing more than $122,000 in violations after a 16-year-old boy in their employ doing roof construction fell to his death in June 2020.
According to a release from the Department of Labor, the teen, identified by NBC-affiliated WSMV-TV as Gustavo Ramirez, was working atop a hotel work site more than 11 stories above the ground. He climbed over a barrier at the roof line and attempted to jump onto a power-driven hoisting device next to the building. The teen missed the platform, slipped through a gap between the scaffolding and the building and fell about 160 feet to his death.
A Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigation into the incident found the teenager’s employer, Stover & Sons Contractors Inc. — a Madison construction contractor — violated two hazardous occupation orders of the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The orders ban employers from allowing minors under age 18 to perform roofing activities or to operate or ride on a power-driven hoisting apparatus.
Stover & Sons Contractors also violated child labor laws by allowing the teen to work more than eight hours a day and more than 40 hours per week when he was 15 years of age, says the Department of Labor.
The contractor received a $122,364 civil penalty under the Child Labor Enhanced Penalty Program. The program permits the division to assess penalties of up to $59,413 for each child labor violation related to the death or serious injury of a worker under age 18 for violations that occurred on or before Jan. 15, 2021.
“Every worker’s death is a tragedy, yet the loss of a teenager so needlessly is especially hard to understand. Child labor laws were enacted to protect children from being put at risk in truly dangerous work conditions,” said Wage and Hour Division Acting District Director Kenneth Stripling, in Nashville, Tenn. “The Wage and Hour Division is determined to enforce child labor laws to keep young workers safe, and to hold employers accountable for their failures to comply with the law.”
Stover & Sons Contracting Inc. performs exterior stucco and insulation finishes on buildings in Nashville and the surrounding area. The employer subcontracted work on the hotel project to Cortes Plastering, who provided the workers that were overseen by Stover & Sons.
WSMV-TV reported that a spokesperson for D.F. Chase, the general contractor on the project, said the company was unaware that their subcontractor, Stover & Sons, had hired another contractor, Cortes Plastering. Cortes hired Ramirez, but Ramierz was under the control and supervision of Stover & Sons.
The family of Ramirez recently joined in a nationwide rally to remember those who died at work, according to WSMV-TV. Following Ramirez's death, local lawmakers introduced legislation that would stop companies that commit major workplace violations from receiving city contracts. The family also sued various individuals and companies, accusing them of reckless actions that led to Ramirez's death.
An investigation by the Tennessee Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has jurisdiction for the case’s workplace safety portion, led the agency to issue citations to the employer. Stover & Sons is currently contesting the penalties.
In addition to the child labor violations, the Wage and Hour Division also found the employer failed to pay overtime to employees when they worked more than 40 hours in a workweek, another violation of the FLSA. The employer paid $38,462 in back wages to 55 workers to resolve this issue.
The incident is among the more recent cases of teenage roofers falling. In December 2020, a 14-year-old boy working on the roof of a Berea, Ohio townhome without required fall protection slipped and suffered critical injuries when he fell 20-feet to the ground.